Monday, March 26, 2012

My Bali Trip 2 - Kintamani,Terraced Fields and Kopi Luwak!

One tip for those visiting Bali- At the airport, there will be a lot of free brochures from the various travel agencies which would have details on the various tours they organize i.e. the different tourist places that they combine in each of their trips, maps of Bali and information on other tourist activities that you can indulge in.You would not use all of their services but the contents would be very useful in planning your itinerary during your stay there .

Mt Batur and Lake Batur
There are some active volcanoes in Bali and Mt Batur is a popular one and the beautiful Lake Batur is situated at its foot.
Our tour guide took us to Kintamani, a village from where you get breathtaking panoramas of the volcano and the lake beside it.
It is imperative that the weather is clear and not foggy in order to fully experience the picturesque views that nature offers here.
Luckily when we went the weather was cool and pleasant , yet clear.

View Of Mt Batur and Lake Batur

Mt Batur looks as if someone took a giant brush and created some black strokes on its back. It's a shade of dark green interspersed with black - areas where the molten lava had flown and from where the volcanic rocks and sand are now being excavated for use in construction industries .The lake looked like a sheet of silver next to the mount and together the beauty they presented made one realize the meaning of tranquility .There are quite a few restaurants in kintamani overlooking Mt.Batur . We went there around 2 pm and were quite hungry. Our driver took us to one of these restaurants and it was one of the BEST meals I have ever had . Steaming food in chill weather is one of the heavenly experiences on earth and if the food is delicious and you are having it immersed in a magnificent spectacle laid in front by nature , what more can you ask for ? The prices were pretty nominal considering all of this .
There are treks organized by the tour operators to Mt.Batur . They pick you up at your hotel in the wee hours of morning around 3 am and take you to the foot of the mount . Then you trek all the way up and you would be on time for the sunrise which is supposed to be spectacular. We did not do any trekking - chanceless with a little one with us . For those interested, I am assuming that its worth a try.

Lake Batur Closer Shot

There are boat rides offered in Lake Batur which they said took you to a temple on the other side and a fruit and vegetable market and then back.

Tegellalang Terraced Rice Fields
Another natural feast to the eye in Bali are its terraced paddy fields. We visited the ones at Tellalalang close to Ubud where our hotel was located.
These are level strips of land cut out into the hill sides where paddy is cultivated.

Terraced Rice Fields

Sipping cool coconut water in one of the tea shops overlooking these fields, we gazed in awe at the steps of green stretched over a large area sprinkled with coconut trees here and there.
Speaking of tender coconuts the ones we had in Bali are some of the biggest I have seen.
The contents are a little excess for one person to consume at one shot.

The terraced rice fields at Jatiluwih are also a popular tourist spot but we did not cover those.
Coffee And Spices Garden
The tour guides normally offer a visit to the Coffee and Spices garden as one of the activities.
They apparently get a commission from the plantation owners for the merchandise sold to these visitors.
For those who had no idea how a coffee or cocoa plant (or is it tree?) looks this would be very interesting.I did belong to that category and hence it was fun.
Additionally we came across something that was far more interesting than all of this.
There is an animal called Luwak in local Balinese. Its a mammal about the size of the cat and the English name is Asian Palm Civet.
Image Courtesy : Wikipedia Commons

This animal loves to feed on ripe coffee berries. The coffee beans after getting processed in its digestive system are released in its excreta. These beans that are picked from its droppings are powdered to make a variety of coffee called Luwak coffee. This coffee is supposed to be have a unique and great taste and is one of the costliest coffees on the island. The folks at the plantation were raising one Luwak purely for producing this coffee. The poor thing was in a cage and hence could not get a proper picture. Got the above one from Wikipedia Commons.
They have a shop selling their agri-products and for marketing purpose they normally offer samples of the various coffee they have to the visitors. Ginseng Coffee, Lemon Tea, Ginger Tea, Ginger Coffee ..For a couple of minutes we were like the highly paid tea/coffee connoisseurs , taking sips from multiple cups spread in front of us.They asked us if we wanted to try Luwak coffee. My husband and I quickly shook our heads left and right with a big 'No''No'. After knowing the origin of the coffee we did not feel like trying it :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Bali Trip - 1

I am not very sure in what order I should go about with regards to my posts on Bali...Just pick places at random or go about sequentially describing in a chronological order!

Guess, random is better.

Bali has a version of Hinduism that has been handed down over centuries.The stories and Gods are very similar to the Indian version but the customs unique in their own way.

One thing I observed is that they are very pious people with a firm deep-rooted belief in their religion and customs.

Almost every house, shop or building in Bali including our resort had a structure at the front -A high throne with a cloth wrapped around it and sometimes with an umberella perched on the top. Every day the people place some offerings in the form of flowers or fruits to this high throne. On doing some search on Google on Balinese Hinduism , I found out that it is representation of Acintya, the supreme God.

In India especially in the South , there are customs in some parts where some trees are considered as representations of Gods and have turmeric and vermillion smeared on the bark with lamps and incense sticks lighted in front.

I found a noteable similarity in Bali with quite a few such trees being considered Gods with a checked cloth draped around their barks.

There is a temple every few miles called 'Pura' in the local language. The stories from the Ramayana and Mahabaratha are well prevalent and depicted in most of their art forms. You can find Shiv Lingas, statues of Nandi, Ganesha etc interwoven with characters like Dragons.

The statues on the road junctions would usually be out of Hindu mythology. One that caught my awe is the one of Rama that I found in Ubud. I have always seen pictures or figurines of Rama in his coronation ceremony with Sita or as a snapshot image with Sita and Lakshman at the sides and Hanuman at his feet.

This one I am talking about is of him in a warrior position about to strike with his bow and arrow quite contrary to his usual representations depicting his kindness and nobility.

The 3 days that I stayed there , every little to big thing that I came across, which I could relate to what I have seen back home in India gave me a wierd pleasure and happiness....I am not sure what is the right word to describe it. More in future posts.....

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vacation To Bali - Intro

Described as 'Island of the Gods' the Indonesian island of Bali is one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in SEAsia.
80% of Balinese are Hindus and it is a land of temples, beaches, paddy fields,volcanoes and a colorful and exuberant culture.
We went on a 3 day trip some days back and it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.Bali is quite a big island and it takes more than 3 hours to reach the northern tip from the southern one. Denpasar where the airport is situated is in the South of Bali. Nusa Dua, Kuta, Sanur are the regions in the South Of Bali with beach resorts. We stayed in Ubud which is in central Bali and is landlocked a.k.a No Beaches- Its at a higher altitude with a lot of greenery and paddy fields around and famous for art.Lovina and Singaraja are regions in the north of Bali - Can be considered if going for a long vacation like 10+ days or so.
There are innumerable travel agencies in Bali that offer their own planned tours or can provide you with a car and driver and sometimes a tour-guide for fixed number of hours.
Few things to remember if you are planning a vacation to Bali
1) Check the weather....Some months esp Dec,Jan etc are supposed to be in the rainy season...
2) The Balinese New Year is called Nyepi Day...It usually comes in March or April and on that day all activities in Bali comes to a virtual standstill...Hence if you are going on a shorter duration like me make sure that its not Nyepi Day.
Indonesian Rupiah is the local currency but USD is accepted everywhere. In fact some prices are quoted only in USD.
It would not be possible to cover every place in Bali in one trip. Hence it would be best to pick a few places based on popularity and feedback and of course personal interest.
Almost everyone we came across were quite affluent in English and hence there would not be much of a language problem for anyone from India in my opinion.
Being a tourist place there are a whole lot of restaurants and we did not face much difficulty in gettingfood considering the fact that we are vegetarians.
I would follow up with more posts on my vacation including some results of my amateur or rather child-level photography :).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Not-So-Bungled Bungee Act!!!

There are some things in life that you really want to do....There are some things in life that you think you want to do, but it is actually NOT the case and you realize it pretty late....And there are some things you do, purely for the attention you receive...
The below act of mine was a mix of the second and third above!

Remember the scene in Pardes where Shahrukh Khan takes a deep dive with his feet tied? Yes the Bungee Jumping One! He was all smiles when he did that(Wonder how he managed)...May be that instilled a stupid idea in me?

I am allergic to roller coasters I hate thriller rides at amusement parks...One , I get nausea and two - THEY DO NOT thrill me at all.

This being the case, I really dont recollect where I got this whole idea about Bungee Jumping!!!

It was a simple 'Day at Six Flags Amusement Park' with friends.
Another mega-thrill amusement center was in the vicinity and one of the options they provided was Bungee Jumping....We could watch every time someone did the act...what looked like Stick figures at that distance jumping down held by a rope and swinging for a few seconds.

'I want to do Bungee Jumping...I have always wanted to do it' I declared.
Initially my friends seemed to absorb it as just one of those statements, we all make, expecting others to acknowledge and move on to the next topic, not taking it too seriously! Something like 'I want to climb Mount Everest some day!'
It did not end there unfortunately!
'Ok, Want to try today?' one of them asked.

When someone dares me like this, sometimes my adrenaline rush takes an unprecedented force and makes me nod my head in agreement before the sanity inside of me is able to control it!
This happened to be one of those occasions.The enthusiasm of my friends soared! To them, I guess it was like a Spanish Bull Fight ! You would not want to do it yourself but still would like to watch the spectacle! Be it the bull or the man who gets killed!! Hmm!

Anyways we all landed at the spot in the evening ......Now it was serious business! My honour was at stake!
I had actually snacked on Nachos and Cheese before that!!! Way too much considering the fact that I was about to go upside down! Fact is when you are super tensed on the inside and smiling with confidence on the outside comfort food does help.

It costed 40 USD to do it. Before paying one had to sign a form that roughly translated to 'I am taking on this craziness on myself at my own accord and if I dont survive its not the company's fault and i take the entire responsibility' . My mom would have kicked me had she known I was signing it but i informed this to her much later ! lol!

Then they measured my weight and asked me to hand over my gold chain as it would fall off. After that my ankles were bound by one of the thickest ropes I had seen in my life.
'Strong Enough?Will this really handle my weight?' I wondered and said a quick prayer to all the Gods I knew.

Then the open lift started going up with me to the spot from where I was supposed to jump.
In the likes of Steffi Graf or Venus Williams just before their Grand Slam final I kept waving to my friends as the lift went up - my heart beat going up exponentially with every feet of ascent!

I stepped out and the sight that met my eye left me speechless for a whole long minute. My total miscalculation and incorrect estimation of the actual height stared back at me. 'OH MY GOD! This damn spot did not look this high from below!' I thought!

My friends seemed to be waving but I could not make out clearly as they appeared as tiny specks from there.The car we had come looked like a replica of the Hot Wheels model I had seen the previous day at the Toy Shop.

The guide at that point, I mean the employee of that Bungee Jumping Company , said 'Hello Young Lady!!! Good Evening' with a brilliant smile. To me he took the form of a mix of Prem Chopra , Amrish Puri and M N Nambiar about to murder the heroine flashing a bloodthirsty smile!

'Its okay Jaish! Let go off your stupid ego and pride!! Just back off now. Tell him you want to go down and not do it' one voice kept telling me in my head.
'Ok, I dont care if I dont survive but I wont survive being the laughing stock' I quitened it and stepped in front. Brave Warrior ready to go to war!

'Do you want to jump forwards or backwards?' CPN (Chopra,Puri and Nambiar mix) asked.
'I am not sure. Which do you think is better?' .
'Well, very few people jump backwards.So I guess thats more scarier' remarked CPN with a tone and expression apt for narrating the story line of 'The Exorcist'.
'Ok' I gulped the scream that rose at the base of my throat!

In any other thriller ride the machine takes care of the thrill. You do not have to push yourself.
In this case, you have to take the initiative and jump on your own.
Almost-Suicide!! Just that your feet are safely secured!

I stepped to the tip of that platform and froze.
Jumping forwards may be less scarier but it was DAMN SCARY!!
I could not jump. I just could not JUMP!! I was at a few hundred feet above ground level!! How could I!!

CPN said "why dont I put my hand in front of you. Then it will be easier" . And he stuck out his villainous hand in front. (Actually he was just being nice and trying to help!!)

A couple of seconds after that have gone into the zones of amnesia in my memory. I am not able to recollect. Did I really jump? Or did CPN grow impatient with this scary-cat-doing-a-stupid-act and give me a shove from behind?

Before I realized I was in the air plunging towards what seemed like oblivion screaming my lungs out!!! I had no idea how my body was swinging or in which angle it was. I was rocking like a pendulum and just saw the sky and different clouds at different angles.

I screamed and screamed and screamed.

I am not sure how long it lasted.Could be a couple of minutes probably but Einstein's words from a tenth std English lesson rang in my ears
'Theory of relativity is simple. When you sit on a hot stove two minutes may seem like two hours or even two days. But if you are out with a beautiful girl, two hours will fly like two minutes'

I thought I would pass out but luckily I did not - My honour still intact!
Soon the swinging slowed and I got lowered .
And It was Over!Okay! Alls well that ends well!

Now that I was done with the act it was time to bask in the limelight!
After freeing myself of the ropes and collecting my chain, I walked out grinning widely from ear to ear taking powerful strides.Show(Off)-Time!
One of my friends showed me four fingers and asked 'How much is this? Whats your name and address?' Just to make sure that my senses and nerves were intact.
Needless to say, My bungee jumping act and I became the topic of discussion for a few days after that!

I may never do it again I suppose!! That thrill will definitely last a life time. Unless someone dares me and my adrenaline takes over again! :D

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gavaskar at the border ?

We were watching the Tamil version of kaun banega crorepathi after dinner . The contestant was at his question for 3 lakh rupees .
Actor Surya said with a piercing look 'here is your question for 3 lakh ! Between which two countries is the Border-Gavaskar trophy held in cricket ? '
Before going any further I should mention that my involvement in cricket is limited to the one day matches that india plays where I just join the members of my family in the cheer-india frenzy and familiarity with the extremely popular and worshipped Gods of the game like Sachin Tendulkar . Otherwise my knowledge is comparable to a toddler's knowledge of rocket science !
This being the case it's best to keep ones mouth tightly shut when questions on it are asked in a quiz program on Tv .
But the tongue and the vocal cords are the craziest parts of the human body that can go entirely out of control at times .
'India - Pakistan ' I said with absolute confidence. My husband also said the answer but we both did not hear each other clearly and simply assumed that our answers were the same. Now this was before the actual options were given for the question !
I also need to mention that a few seconds before this question was asked I had bragged to my husband 'these contestants are so dumb and these questions are so silly !I should have tried to participate . Surely would have won a few lakh I guess '
Coming back to the question when the choices were shown I was surprised ! 'hey ! India-Pak illave illa' (how come india- Pak is not there!) I exclaimed ! Then I sheepishly looked at my hubby and asked 'you said india-Australia is it ? '
'of course yes ! You said india-Pak is it ? How on earth did u arrive at it ? '
There is a saying in Tamil that goes 'keezha vizhunthalum meesai la man ottalai ' ( u fall but claim that there is no sand on your moustache!)
I was a perfect example for that at this juncture!
'Border-Gavaskar rt ! So I thought it's a tournament between two countries sharing a border!' I said with an air in the likes of Bill Gates talking about Windows !
'Border is for Allan Border, dumbo ' my husband exclaimed !
Oh yeah! That Australian Dude !
But I was still holding on tight to my no-sand-on-moustache stand !
'This is called lateral thinking ! My reasons make sense , remember?'
'ok ! Then what is Gavaskar doing at the border ? ' he quipped . By now he was shaking with laughter !
' I thought it's a match between the bordering countries in honor of Gavaskar!'
The fact is that I had actually applied this reasoning to arrive at the answer - call it an-overdose-of-lateral-thinking !
My husband was laughing uncontrollably by now ! 'i think I should put this on Facebook ! ' he added .
Then he called up my brother in Chennai and narrated the whole thing . When I got on the phone I repeated my theory-of-border still sticking on to my I-know-it-all air of confidence !
'hey ! It was you who said that is it ? Adi makku(idiot) ! I thought it was the contestant on tv !' my sibling responded with mirth and he too started laughing . By now my 3-yr old joined his dad and uncle and started laughing too though I am sure he had no clue of what all the excitement was about !
'Good that u did not participate ! Else u would have created a brawl there that all options are wrong ! ' said my hubby who was by now rolling on the floor at my ludicrous theory.
Overall whether he was at the border or not , Gavaskar did provide a hearty laugh to the men-folk in my life !

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tender Hands Washing Clothes !

It was one of my usual morning walks in a local park at Chennai, 'Aana Aavanna ' number from Vaagai Sooda Va movie ringing in my ears from my mobile phone.
A group of men who appeared to be in their fifties were engaged in a game of tennis . In appreciation of their health consciousness and interest in outdoor sports I smiled to myself . When I got a closer view the smile slowly faded . There was a child probably eleven or twelve standing near the nets and acting as their ball picker . His clothes was proof enough that he was there not because he was family or friend but he was someone they had employed . He could have been their servant's child who lent a hand only in the morning for this activity hence made some money for his family. That was no deterrent to his education or self development. But if it were the case like so many households in India that employ children as live-in domestic helpers then it's an absolute shame !

We were in Erode during my Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. There were so many families in my neighborhood that employed kids as domestic helpers or in common terms 'servants'.

They give some money as a sort of annual deposit to the child's impoverished family and bring him (or her) home to do their household chores.

Some of these were the so-called Educated lot -Professors,Engineers,Doctors,Businessmen,Lawyers and what not.

' They are in a better off state than what they were at their homes' was the justification given by some of them.

The fact is when the servant is a child, it costs lesser, and they are more obedient and dont talk back and can be pushed around as you like.

Whenever we talk of child labour we always talk about factories and industries that employ children to do menial labour.

What about these children mopping floors and washing clothes in so many households in India?

Don't they have a right to education?

When you have your own kids attending expensive schools how can you have another little one of the same age polishing your shoes and clearing your garbage?

One need not go out of your way to do social service or donate to orphanages.

Cant we be socially responsible by not indulging or encouraging such practices?

These kids employed as servants are in a highly vulnerable position and how they get treated is a matter of chance or their luck.

Their parents are usually simple minded people who just look at the immediate fulfillment of their monetary needs. If someone spoke to them about not shattering their child's future and sending them to school for their education maybe they would give it a second thought.

Cant the so-called educated lot do this instead of exploiting their struggle to make ends meet?

I do not know what the Indian Penal Code says about all this.

To me its a heinous crime that should strictly be addressed by the laws of the nation.

Cant we just see all children as innocent blossoming buds with a right to education and a right to be nourished and enriched?

Selfishness is widely prevalent in everything these days. When it comes to children atleast cant it be done away with?